Never be afraid to ask

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Since I was young I have heard people say, “there is no such thing as a dumb question”. And although I agree with that in principle, I’ve often held off asking questions because I didn’t want to appear like I was the only one who didn’t understand something. When I’ve mustered my courage and asked a question, however, I’ve often been surprised to find that others wanted to ask the same question.

If you sit on an association committee or board of directors, one of your main responsibilities is to ask questions. Lots of questions. Your role is to understand issues, participate in debate and make decisions that benefit the association and its members. So it’s important that you not be hesitant to ask.

I recently reread an article by Lyn McDonell that addresses the question of asking questions. Lyn has been a facilitator and consultant for OREA for many years and I greatly respect her opinion. In the article she shares some tips for asking questions at a board meeting. They really resonated with me so I thought I would share them.

Here are Lyn’s suggestions for asking questions with the right tone and style:

Board members, remember that you don’t have to be a subject matter expert to govern well. You can make up for what you lack in knowledge or experience by asking good governance-level questions

Never be afraid to ask (or answer) challenging questions. Good questions make better plans and increase the chance that the organization will be more successful

Be cool – not hot headed. Ask (and answer) in a way that is serious regarding the issue while being sensitive to people. Don’t embarrass anyone; there is no need to criticize. To finish your point, ask an empowering question about how something can be managed or dealt with. Effective leaders help others find the way forward

Watch fuzzy language – your own and others. Fuzzy language is non-specific, overly abstract and vague. Ask “what specifically do you mean by…?” Staff, be specific

Ask for facts and be careful of “opinions.” Be especially wary of the “tyranny of the anecdote,” a singular incident that shapes opinion, distorts facts, and disrupts the board’s normal diligence process

Try stepping away from making a point and instead frame it in terms of a question, one that compels others to build a solution and outcome that works


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